In March 2022, a video has surfaced of two giant manta rays in the offshore waters 50 nautical miles south of Karachi. The species, which are a relative of the shark and stingray, used to be common in Pakistan but has now become extremely rare. The last time that these manta rays were sighted was in the offshore waters north of Churna Island in October 2016.
The IUCN has also declared the species as endangered and have added it to its red list. This is because these gentle giants would often get caught in gillnetters operating in coastal waters; and since they reach sexual maturity relatively late in life, only giving birth to one offspring ever few years, their population has significantly dwindled. Pollution and lack of protection are also among the contributing factors.
Due to the lack of research and concern by relevant departments, we do not know to what extent climate change and increasing sea temperatures have contributed to this. While such species are slowly becoming endangered in Pakistan, the fisheries department and coastal development department remain in their deep slumber.
There is no urgency to act and protect ecosystems and precarious species. Laws prohibiting the catching of these creatures are not enough. Coastal areas where these endangered species reside must be constantly monitored and protected from fishing and other activities. Specific fishing routes must be outlined where fishermen should and should not be allowed to fish. The fisheries department needs to create fisheries for these manta rays to increase their population, not for commercial purposes.
Apart from that, a new up-to-date research project should be initiated by the relevant departments in collaboration with WWF to understand the coastal waters of Pakistan and come up with innovative methods for conservation and protection. The government that claims to be the champion of fighting against climate change must take special notice of this issue and set up a body for these endangered animals.